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Walking as Spiritual Practice

by Ann Bodling
Coracle Spiritual Director

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me what my spiritual practices have been lately. I was caught off guard and mumbled something about reading and contemplative prayer but, at the same time, I felt like I was forgetting something important. I was. I was forgetting what has been a practice for the last several decades, though I would not have termed it as such until relatively recently.

In the last few years I have become acquainted with the importance of living and being in the moment- not fixated on the future or the past, not entertaining the myriad distracting thoughts that pass through my weary brain, not giving in to fears or irritations or even wants, but noticing what is right in front of and all around me, taking it in, paying attention, acknowledging God’s presence. Do I live this way through most of my days? No. Does being aware and awake to what transpires in the real world come naturally? No. Do I even remember that I want to experience this restorative focus on the present? Not very often.

And so, I walk. And in the walking, I am captivated by my surroundings and I slip into noticing without effort. This morning my walk took me through woodlands and along an overgrown field, and the songs of cicadas, crickets, and katydids of all species were my constant companions. I passed bright orange fungi on the shaded roadside, a spike buck who watched me warily through the trees, and a single Acadian flycatcher calling from overhead. Such are the findings I expect to encounter when I set out early in the morning.

Today, however, there was a message woven into my wanderings. As often happens, my walking took me past an old abandoned pasture filled with tall grasses and forbs, the  sun low behind me, casting the scene in a golden glow. The insect chorus was in full swing, though the singers remained invisible among the grasses and, in fact, I could not see any animal life there at all. When I

reached the end of the field, I turned around to head back home, and the scene had been transformed. With sun backlighting the pasture, every drop of dew stood out, glistening in relief. And, in what had appeared to be an empty field, shone hundreds, or maybe thousands, of spider webs, sunlight glinting off each delicate strand.

As I stood in awe, I realized how little I had really seen on my first pass by the pasture. All these creatures, all this life had been right in front of me and I had missed them. It was as if they had been hiding in plain sight all along. I wondered then, how often do I miss understanding others’ perspectives, so intent am I in seeing things from just one direction, the one in which I am heading. How often have I assumed I am right because my vantage is the only one I can see?

Contemplation, or living with God fully in the moment, is most powerful when we allow the present to seep into our souls. Sometimes the noticing alone is enough to fill us and we are content. Sometimes, like this morning, there is a message that deepens and changes us, if we but accept it. I find that, for me, walking is one of the most natural means of being open to the present moment. Walking as spiritual practice.